Richard Hunter - Visually Impaired Triathlete - Race Report

On Sunday, July 18th, I completed the Vineman 70.3 Ironman in Sonoma County in 5:10:41, which is a new personal best. This placed me 210 of 1299 men. The Vineman is regarded as “one of the most competitive in the USA Triathlon ranking system,” attracting top professionals and amateurs alike. As a novice to the sport of triathlon, I don’t have much to compare it to, but it was a challenging course for me. Since the race was a 2 ½ hour drive from Folsom, it allowed my guide, Alan Gulledge, and I the opportunity to ride and run on the course prior to race day. It was also great because my family was able to cheer me on, and I was able to get plenty of advice about managing the course from local friends who have raced the course in the past.

 As for the race itself, I found it to be very challenging. Alan and I decided to start the swim side-by-side despite very little practice. Some races require visually impaired athletes to swim in this manner and the solo start made it a safe place to practice something new on race day. I like to swim behind my guide because I can see the white tether, making it possible to stay on course. I cannot consistently see my guide when he is at my side even when I turn my head to breathe. Consequently, I smash into him or swim away from him until I feel the tether tighten. In this case, the water was dirty and it was foggy so I was swimming blind and zigzagging all over the place. I stopped and pulled in behind him where I normally swim. Then, it was no problem to stay on course.

 The bike ride was challenging. It took awhile for my heart rate to come down after the transition. The first 5 miles are flat, so we pushed it hard to make up for the hills to come. I felt like I was pushing myself as hard as I could, keeping an eye on my heart rate at all times. I worked much harder than I normally would on a bike ride. There were numerous rolling hills that were steep enough to slow the tandem to a disadvantage, but we typically could make up ground on the other side. After flying down one hill, I asked Alan how fast we were going, and he said the bike started shaking a little when we hit 45 mph so he stopped looking at the computer, but we continued to accelerate. Woohoo!!!

 The run… it was a tough course. The road slopes severely in some places and it had potholes. In fact, Alan rolled his ankle 3 times. Due to his superb guiding, I only rolled mine once.  In the end, we had a stellar run with a 1:41:27 (7:44 pace)half marathon finish which was faster than our goal pace by a large margin, and we had negative splits (sped up as we went).

 Finally, I’m beyond proud of Alan. He is a strong athlete and has developed a keen sensitivity to the vigilance it takes to be a guide. I don’t think he even realizes how much extra mental and physical effort it takes to call out gear shifts, bumps, turns, overhanging branches, potholes, rough road edges, etc... He trains harder than I do, he is a stronger athlete than I, yet he is apologetic about getting a cramp, concerned that he is slowing me down. No, he isn’t slowing me down. He has allowed me to finish strong at the correct pace and his cramps are likely due to the added exertion of being a great guide.

 What’s next…? After doing the Folsom Olympic Distance Triathlon in August, Alan and I are heading off to Augusta Georgia at the end of September so I can revisit the Augusta 70.3 Ironman course and crush it. My goal is to go under 5 hours (last time Justin Waller and I finished in just under 5:20). From what I understand, that would place me in the company of the top several visually impaired triathletes in North America!

Thank you for your support!

Richard Hunter

Visually Impaired Triathlete